What will we expect in the Republic of Ireland ahead of the next general election?

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27th October 2023

What will we expect in the Republic of Ireland ahead of the next general election?

After three years of the unlikeliest of coalitions in the Republic of Ireland, the Fianna Fail-Fine Gael-Green government is bracing for the next general election which may be held in Autumn 2024 (according to pundits) and no later than March 2025 (as set out by the Constitution of Ireland).

Can Sinn Fein hold on to their dominance in the Dail?

Sinn Fein are aiming to come out top in the next general election with a keen eye on candidate selection – the decision to not stand enough candidates in some constituencies in 2020 has haunted the party’s election strategists. Had they stood more candidates in constituencies like Dublin West and Wexford, the party may have added 5-6 seats onto their 37 seats at the last election. The party stood 42 candidates in the 2020 election – 88.1% of the party’s candidates were successful in winning a seat.

Mary Lou McDonald aims to become the first female Taoiseach and the first to be elected from her party – her chances of doing so depend on the public’s opinion of the housing crisis, healthcare and the ongoing cost-of-living since the end of the pandemic. However, her party has been unable to break the 40% mark in opinion polls – if she is to form a government without Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Independents, Sinn Fein has to shore up more of the vote and seats in the Dail.

Sinn Fein have focused on the housing crisis, health and the cost of living in their “alternative budget” – they propose 21,000 social and affordable homes at a cost of €1.74 billion and a tax credit of one month’s rent back into renters pockets alongside a three year ban on increases at a cost of €200 million.

Can Fianna Fail stop the “soft-Republican” vote going from their candidates to Sinn Fein?

From the outset of the current government’s term of office, Fianna Fail leader Micheάl Martin has faced pressure from his backbenchers (such as Willie O’Dea) to consider his plan to retire as party leader. Michael McGrath and Jim O’Callaghan are both considered contenders for his job, but Martin’s strong performance and popularity as Taoiseach during COVID-19 has guaranteed him his fourth general election outing as Fianna Fail leader next time round.

Michael McGrath TD as Minister for Finance in the Fianna Fail-Fine Gael-Green coalition last week announced the Budget for 2024. His measures included a reduction in the Universal Social Charge for earners under €25,760 from 4.5% to 2% and the 4.5% rate reduced to 4% for earners under €70,044. The move has been viewed as a signal that McGrath and Fianna Fail aim to outmaneuver Sinn Fein and their growing calls for tax cuts for low-income families – a series of reforms to the carbon tax, VAT and student fees have also been included in McGrath’s attempt to win back the young voters who have drifted to Sinn Fein in recent years.

Will Leo Varadkar make it to the next general election if his party doesn’t survive the tough local and European election campaigns?

Fine Gael have put their stamp on the budget with Pascal Donahoe (Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform) pushing hard for mortgage interest tax relief and landlord tax reliefs – Sinn Fein have lamented the decision to introduce reliefs for landlords. They have dubbed the Fine Gael party as the “party of landlords” since the housing crisis took hold of the 2020 election campaign.

Leo Varadkar has had a tough ride as Taoiseach for the second time – the Fine Gael leader has been under pressure since his party’s worst ever performance at a general election since 1948 (in 2020, they finished in third place). Many analysts have voiced the possibility of a change of leadership from the hands of Varadkar to his deputy, Simon Coveney.

What to look out for?

The past two elections in 2016 and 2020 have effectively ended the two-party system in the Republic of Ireland that held for the best part of 90 years. In November 1982, when Charles Haughey and Garret Fitzgerald battled it out for government, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael represented 84.4% of the vote – in 2020, they both represented only 43.1% of the vote.

The next government is by no means a done deal – Sinn Fein are leading the polls, but haven’t been able to break 40% of the vote in opinion polls. If Sinn Fein are certain to form a left-wing government (excluding Fianna Fail and Fine Gael), they have to aim to get the votes of four in every ten cast at the next election and ensure transfers between left-wing parties. Labour, once dominant in Irish politics, will be uncomfortable supporting a Sinn Fein government – the latter have constantly reminded Labour of their coalition with Fine Gael between 2011 and 2016.

The Social Democrats, ahead of Labour in the polls, are positioning themselves as “kingmakers” in the power struggles after the next election – Holly Cairns is hopeful she can hold on to the 6 seats her party holds. However, the Social Democrats won three of these seats because of the huge transfers from Sinn Fein which would not be happen if the latter stands more candidates.

Fianna Fail will be content with the role as the second largest party in the next Dail – the party would be able to stand as the prime opposition party against a possible Sinn Fein government. Whichever party finishes in third place at the next election will have the toughest task – will they join the government as the junior partner or will they join the opposition as the small voice?

Fine Gael have made clear they will not support a Sinn Fein government, nor have they committed to forming another coalition with Fianna Fail – if Leo Varadkar led his party to third place again, Fine Gael may find themselves excluded from power for some time to come. His leadership will come under fire for failing to save his party’s fortunes a second time.

What about the Greens? Eamon Ryan knows fully well what the Greens in government meant back in the 2011 election – the party was wiped out completely by the voters. The Green Party has nosedived in the polls since it joined Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in government – it won 12 seats back in 2020, but now will hope to hold on to even two of them come the next election.

The next Irish general election is going to be as interesting as the past two – the result will deliver more surprises than in 2020. With our first-hand experience and contacts in local government, central government and government officials, the MCE team can provide you with unparalleled insight. For more information on how we can help you, get in touch.

Photo credit: RTÉ